Shortchanging Delaware Educators
Last month, TNTP released a policy paper on teacher compensation practices across the country, including some promising practices in a few select states and districts. This paper is timely for Delaware given legislation passed at the end of June calling for a statewide committee to review our state’s existing policies for teacher compensation and to propose recommendations for changes by November 2014. TNTP’s paper provides some strong insights as well as innovative profiles of early adopters that this committee may want to keep in mind as they make their recommendations.
The paper argues that there are three main problems with existing salary structures, which are largely based on increasing compensation based on additional years of service and academic credentials:
- Teacher starting salaries tend to be low and not competitive with other competing industries. The problem here is obvious — it’s hard to recruit high-quality talent into classrooms. Though everyone agrees no one goes into teaching for the money, everyone can also agree that we need to ensure teaching is a lucrative career choice for young professionals contemplating their options or career-changers looking to move into education.
- Salaries do not differentiate among teachers that are effective at raising student achievement versus those that are ineffective. One startling graph (figure 3) from the paper illustrates the discrepancy in pay for a 20-year veteran teacher rated ineffective in Atlanta ($62,000) versus a 5-year highly effective teacher in that same district ($48,000). Another staggering statistic — the report cites that last year, schools across the U.S. spent an estimate of $250 million giving pay increases to teacher identified by their districts as ineffective.
- Salaries generally do not account for different settings or challenges in high-need, high-poverty areas. In reviewing the salary schedules across two schools within Chicago Public Schools (figure 4), the paper found two teachers on the same step in the salary ladder are paid the exact same amount ($66,147) for teaching in two very different environments. One, with high-poverty, chronic truancy, increased rates of homelessness, and low-academic proficiency rates. The other, a middle-high income, high proficiency rates, and smaller class sizes. Yet two teachers with the same level of experience and education earn exactly the same amount for teaching in these very different contexts.
Buried in the paper is some Delaware-specific data regarding the cost of paying teachers across the country based on advanced degrees (typically master’s degrees), which has been shown to have little effect on student achievement. The paper references a study from the Center for American Progress in 2009 which estimated teacher compensation costs for master’s degrees nationally. It found that in the 2003-2004 school year, 53% of teachers in Delaware had a master’s degree or above and that obtaining a master’s degree resulted in an average salary bump of $8,986 per teacher and cost the state $39 million annually – or $312 per student.
TNTP provides some reason for optimism however. The paper profiles some states and districts that are revamping their teacher compensation models to reward teachers for gains in student achievement and overall effectiveness. Given Delaware’s statewide salary structure, and the recent legislation to re-examine our current structures, the profile on Louisiana may provide an interesting model for us to learn from. Louisiana law requires that salaries be based on teacher effectiveness, demand, and experience – with no factor accounting for more than 50 percent of the overall formula. The state provided some overall parameters for the system, and even developed an off-the-shelf sample model for districts to adopt or customize for local contexts. This balance of autonomy to build a district- or school-specific system while balancing support and accountability for requiring the models include some key components, seems like the right approach for a state with diverse districts and needs.
Finally, the paper raises thoughtful caution and lessons for implementation. A strong evaluation system is critical to any teacher compensation structure that is built upon it. In addition, compensation is a very personal and important element to anyone in the workforce – therefore communicating any changes to a compensation structure and involving teachers in the process is very important.